Thursday, 1 March 2012

Catalan cuisine - La Parra

Having done a bit of background reading prior to our trip, I knew that we would be in Barcelona for the end of calçots season (season roughly runs from November to March). Having heard good things about calçots, I was eager to try and find a resto serving these. Out of all the recoms in the Time Out guide, there was only one place where they mentioned that serves calçots called La Parra. Since it was a Thursday evening, I decided to risk it and not bother with a reservation. We arrived around half 8 and found that the resto was empty and we were their first guests. It was actually a really nice experience because it meant that our waiter had the time to explain to us every dish that was on their menu (and there were a lot!! at least 25-30 items!) in perfect English, putting our pidgin Spanish and non-existent Catalan to shame!!

After digesting all our different options, we settled for a starter of calçots with a side of pan amb tomaquet. Even though we had had the latter before, this was a new experience for us where the ingredients were brought to the table and we were told to make it up ourselves!! Apparently, this is very normal when eating in Catalunya and usually, there is one person in charge of making all the bread.....a bit of a chore if you were a table of 12, laughed our waiter!!! :)
He very kindly gave us a demonstration on how to make our pan amb tomaquet and afterwards, I had a shot of making some myself. Not a bad effort but I could've done with bit more garlic on mine (JD's comment!!)
Pan amb tomaquet made by our waiter

Pan amb tomaquet made by yours truly. Traditionally, coca bread should be used (as above) which is different to the country bread in the first photo. Garlic should be cut and the cut side is used to smear on the warm bread. Special tomatoes are used, which are cut in half and again, the cut side is smeared onto the bread. Follow with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of sea salt and bread is ready!  

Our calçots arrived at our table and again, we were shown how to eat these. It gets a tad messy so we had to put on plastic bibs first! Afterwards, we were to take a calçot in our left hand, use our right hand to take away the charred skin which amazingly peels off on its own!! Then, dip our calçot into the romesco sauce provided, tilt our heads and bite off the calçot until the green leafy part. They were delicious and lots of fun - we were really glad we were able to experience it!! We both now have a soft spot for romesco sauce (sauce made from almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, tomatoes and peppers) which also happens to go perfectly with some baked spuds :)

We then plumped for some simple grilled meats for our mains, steak for me and lamb for JD. My steak was huge and flavoursome, JD's lamb was yummy :)

After all that food, we still managed to squeeze in a little dessert - I went for a healthy-ish option of strawberries (dipped in sugar) from Huelva (fresh from the market) and JD went for a frozen crème brûlée cake.
Menu all in Catalan - not as daunting as it looks if you have some knowledge of French..

Interesting dessert option - sorbet with a shot of alcohol :)

It was a lovely meal and we had superb service. Unfortunately, we were the only table that the restaurant served that night which was really heartbreaking. Our waiter even joked with us that he was under instructions not to let us leave when we asked for the bill. It was a real shame that there weren't more customers on the night and was a stark reminder of just how bad the economies in the eurozone are and how it really hits small businesses. Hopefully, they will be busier come the weekend; apparently, local families usually come to eat calçots then so with any luck, trade will pick up! I would definitely recommend La Parra if you fancy a taste of traditional Catalan cuisine with extra friendly service :) 

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